At just 27 years old, David Hysong turned a rare head-and-neck cancer diagnosis into a mission to save the lives of others.

David Hysong
Credit: Jason Myers Photo

David Hysong could be called many things – survivor, motivator, educator – but 'victim' is certainly not one of them. This 29-year-old from Kentucky was recently named a Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare for his dedication to fighting for the lives of rare cancer patients.

David comes by his willingness to serve honestly. His father, a helicopter pilot, received the military's highest honor for bravery in peacetime "for voluntarily flying through a mountain pass in the middle of a blizzard to save a pregnant woman and her child." With his dad's example to lead him, David began pursuing refugee, special operations, and investigative work against children enslaved in human trafficking. His work took him to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he was both a missionary and undercover investigator.

Two months into his assignment, David was hit by a bus in a near-fatal accident. After two years of surgeries and rehab, David applied to Seminary, and matriculated at Harvard Divinity School. He decided to continue his career in Special Operations, but was diagnosed at just 27 years old with a rare form of head and neck cancer. Through his suffering, David realized his calling was to turn his own suffering into a platform and opportunity to save others.

His idea? David founded Shepherd Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company focused only on caring for rare cancer patients. Through suffering and out of hitting rock bottom, he had been given a place to stand and an opportunity to save a million lives.

Within two weeks, David had raised enough in seed investment for his project. Shepherd Therapeutics came into being just three months later. According to David, he "has watched as God has brought pharmaceutical veterans and world-class talent together to realize the Shepherd vision." What began as a painful, life-altering diagnosis for David has turned into a blossoming company that is currently developing multiple medecines that treat more than a dozen rare cancers.

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So what inspired the name 'Shepherd'? "While the many religious parallels were, actually, unintentional, it is no coincidence that God called a poor young man named David to found a company called Shepherd that would leave the ninety-nine to save the one, champion the neglected, and volunteer to fight the Goliaths of greed, corruption, and death." Although other pharmaceutical companies are consistently increasing profits by raising drug costs, David and his team at Shepherd are relentlessly developing life-saving medicines deemed too costly for people with cancers deemed too rare.